Why We Fight

Courtney Martin has an interesting interview with Sisterhood Interrupted author Deborah Siegel about feminist in-fighting. A few of Siegel’s comments really struck me, including her characterization of the underlying issues in the inter-feminist conflicts:

In the early days of the second-wave women’s movement — and actually all the way through the 1990s — feminists debated whether the best way to make serious, lasting change was by changing the world outside or changing ourselves. Today, we’re debating the merits of “choice feminism” and “Sex-and-the-City”-style empowerment, but we’re asking ourselves the same question: What needs transforming, our head or the world? Depending on your answer, feminism becomes a culture or a cause.

The individual versus the collective solution does seem to be a major divide, even though I suspect many feminists would say that both our head and our world have to change. I think we just differ on the proportions.

The latest fight, as Martin points out in her questions, seems to be the Mommy Wars — something that many feminists have been arguing is over-hyped and largely created by a trend-hungry media. Siegel agrees:

You know, I’m not a mom yet, but my best friend, who’s an active professional and a mom, keeps telling me how peacefully SAHMs and moms who work outside the home coexist in her social circle. The media really has the whole “war” thing overblown. It’s a great distraction from the real work that needs to get done (and that groups like MomsRising and the Mothers Movement Online are, thank goodness, now doing).

So what can we learn from the past? Not to believe the hype. Mainstream media have been historically lame about truthfully covering women’s realities. Other lessons from the past: Read books like Adrienne Rich’s Of Woman Born.

I’m with her on that. And now I want to read her book.


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7 comments for “Why We Fight

  1. June 12, 2007 at 12:15 pm

    “Feminism because a culture or a cause” — This is such a powerful statement > can it be both? I definitely agree that the “Im a mum and you aren’t” thing is hyped by media. How many gossip magazines need to show female celebrities with their children? (not that saying that is a bad thing but it does beg the question whether you have made it solely because you have had a child).

  2. June 12, 2007 at 12:59 pm

    It’s really not an either-or, “our head or our world.” But I think the -way- we’re going about both is kind of fucked up. “Consciousness raising” doesn’t mean “we must all reach the same conclusions or someone’s doing it wrong,” nor is it sufficient if one wants to be an activist, i don’t think. At a certain point you go and do.

  3. curiousgyrl
    June 12, 2007 at 1:17 pm

    I think its more about whether you think you change the world by chaning the heads, or the other way around. Again its a little bit of both, but I get seriously annoyed by strategies that rely overly on getting everbody on the same page before we can fight.

    An example of the way I think it works is this: Divorce used to be hard, now its legally easier. Feminists are part of the reason for this. Its undeniably changed the way all americans think about marriage, and even though a lot of them hate it, the way the accomplished fact has changed the culture makes it pretty hard to go back to the way things were. Not that they aren’t trying…

  4. June 12, 2007 at 2:01 pm

    We are the chorus and we agree…

    I also don’t see “change the world or change ourselves” as an either/or question. I think both are necessary, and each helps the other. And I think each of us needs to do what we feel personally called to do, and find the balance that works for us. I don’t think feminists should be sniping at each other for doing feminism in the wrong way. (And any feminist who does that is doing feminism in the wrong way! :-) )

    It’s a bit like how I see the “angry radical versus polite moderate” debates you see in so many progressive movements (I see it flaring up a lot in the atheist movement). I think both are necessary. It’s like we’re playing good cop/bad cop.

  5. June 12, 2007 at 3:33 pm

    I would tend to agree that the Mommy Wars are overhyped. I’ve been a work at home mom since my first pregnancy, and I’ve only rarely seen examples of moms judging each other quite that harshly.

    But I have met one or two stay at home moms who really do look down that hard on working moms. I don’t know as many working moms well enough to know if any of them feel that way about SAHMs. I’ve certainly read criticism often enough of SAHMs for wasting their education and skills, but never from someone I knew.

    I’ve also noted the general tendency to ignore or dismiss the many SAHMs who work from home when people do discuss Mommy War issues. It’s not an aspect I can ignore, of course.

  6. nik
    June 13, 2007 at 2:27 pm

    You know, I’m not a mom yet, but my best friend, who’s an active professional and a mom, keeps telling me how peacefully SAHMs and moms who work outside the home coexist in her social circle. The media really has the whole “war” thing overblown. It’s a great distraction…

    I think this completely misses the point.

    I get on great with my landlord. We get on socially, we’re good friends and we co-exist together really well. But that doesn’t negate the fact that there are profound differences in our economic interest because of our different situations as rentier and tenant, and this feeds across into different positions on public policy ideas.

    The same applies to the mommy wars. I’m sure SAHMs and working moms are really nice to each other and get along fantastically. But when you stop thinking about whether they’re nice to each other when they meet up socially, there are still profound difference in interests between the two groups. Just because those difference don’t result in a huge rift when it comes to socialising doesn’t mean the differences are ‘hype’ and unimportant. The issues are much more important than whether they get along socially.

  7. June 15, 2007 at 6:46 pm

    I’m not sure I see the exact parallel there? The landlord is the owner from whom you are renting. How does that work with SAHM’s and working moms? I mean, there -might- be a class differential, but not all working moms are doing it by necessity; and the relationship’s not as clearcut, to me.

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